We Should All Be Concerned About the Future Because We Will Have To Spend the Rest of Our Lives There

Charles F. Kettering? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Charles F. Kettering was a prolific inventor and the head of research for General Motors for many years. During an interview he apparently uttered a line about the future that was simultaneously humorous and insightful:

We should all be concerned about the future because we will have to spend the rest of our lives there.

I am having trouble finding a solid citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: Charles F. Kettering discussed this theme several times, and his remarks were refined over time. In 1938 he addressed a testimonial dinner of the Chamber of Commerce held in Lansing, Michigan. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Tomorrow will be exactly what you think it ought to be and the accomplishments of the future depend entirely on the amount of imagination we have got, the amount of industry we have got in pursuing them, and when we think they are worth while.

“I am not worried about the future at all. In fact I think it is the most wonderful future I ever had. I have got to spend all the rest of my life in that future, and I don’t want to run it down. It is going to be a wonderful place to live, I think,” Mr. Kettering concluded.

In July 1939 Kettering spoke at a joint luncheon held by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the Advertising Club. He employed a compact version of the saying based on “I” instead of “we”: 2

“You know,” the speaker remarked with a serious face, “I am interested in the future because I expect to spend the rest of my life in the future.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.




In August 1939 a newspaper in Plainfield, New Jersey printed a filler item with a thematically pertinent comment from Kettering: 3

I am not disturbed about the future. I think it is going to be a wonderful place. I don’t like people to talk about how bad it is going to be, because I expect to spend the rest of my life in the future.—Charles F. Kettering.

In 1940 the Associated Press news service published an interview with Kettering that included a close match for the saying under investigation. The ellipsis was in the original text: 4

“The greatest advance that science could make today would be a ‘confession of ignorance’ . . . an admission that there are an enormous number of things we don’t know.”

Kettering says the one thing he definitely knows about the future is that “we should all be concerned about it because we will have to spend the rest of our lives there!”

In 1946 “Reader’s Digest” printed an instance on a page dedicated to “Picturesque Speech and Patter”: 5

My interest is in the future because I’m going to spend the rest of my life there (Charles Kettering)

In 1949 Evan Esar included the saying in his compendium “The Dictionary of Humorous Quotations”. 6 In addition, Herbert V. Prochnow placed an instance in “The New Speaker’s Treasury of Wit and Wisdom” in 1958. 7 In both cases, the phrasing and ascription matched the version in the “Reader’s Digest”.

At the beginning of the famously abysmal 1959 movie “Plan 9 from Outer Space” the narrator “The Amazing Criswell” recites the following 8 which is viewable here: 9

Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future.

In 1989 “The Concise Columbia Dictionary of Quotations” published an instance that was similar to the 1940 citation: 10

We should all be concerned about the future because we will have to spend the rest of our lives there.
C. F. Kettering (1876- 1958)
American engineer, industrialist

In conclusion, Charles F. Kettering should be credited with this remark. He expressed it in different ways over the years. QI believes that the 1940 version is the most interesting although a compact rendition requires the replacement of “it” with “the future” in parentheses.

Image Notes: An illustration of a fortune teller’s crystal ball from Tumisu at Pixabay. A depiction of artificial trees from Unsplash at Pixabay.

(Thanks to Mardy Grothe who listed this saying in the online “Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations” and Fred Shapiro who included it in “The Yale Book of Quotations”. Many thanks to Bruce Reznick who told QI about the instance in “Plan 9 from Outer Space”.)

Notes:

  1. 1938 December 2, The State Journal (Lansing State Journal), Technological Lag Blamed By Kettering for Slumps, Start Page 1, Quote Page 11, Column 2 and 3, Lansing, Michigan. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1939 July 19, Los Angeles Times, Future Hailed by Kettering, Part 2, Quote Page 3, Column 1, Los Angeles, California. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1939 August 9, The Plainfield Courier-News, The Future, Quote Page 8, Column 2, Plainfield, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1940 January 21, The Indianapolis Sunday Star, Diesel-Motored Stock Car Just Around Corner, Says Kettering (Associated Press), Quote Page 23, Column 1, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1946 January, Reader’s Digest, Volume 48, Picturesque Speech and Patter, Quote Page 102, Column 1, The Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified on paper)
  6. 1949, The Dictionary of Humorous Quotations, Edited by Evan Esar, Section: Charles Franklin Kettering, Quote Page 120, Doubleday, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper in 1989 reprint edition from Dorset Press, New York)
  7. 1958, The New Speaker’s Treasury of Wit and Wisdom by Herbert V. Prochnow, Topic: Future, Quote Page 179, Harper & Row, New York. (Verified with scans)
  8. Website: IMDb Internet Movie Database, Movie: Plan 9 from Outer Space, Release Date: 1959, Director: Edward D. Wood Jr., Writer: Edward D. Wood Jr., Section: Quotes, Website description: Information about movies. (Accessed imdb.com on March 29, 2017) link
  9. YouTube video, Title: Plan 9 From Outer Space, 1959, Full Movie, Uploaded on Dec 1, 2016, Uploaded by: RNE, (Quotation starts at 0 minutes 25 seconds of 1 hour 18 minutes 21 seconds)(Accessed on youtube.com on March 29, 2017) link
  10. 1989, The Concise Columbia Dictionary of Quotations by Robert Andrews, Topic: The Future, Quote Page 105, Columbia University Press, New York. (Verified with scans)